It may be bottom of the 9th for 'Grand Old Game'

Major-league baseball is in a race against time and sports that have more television appeal. It's a race baseball will lose. That's the prediction of nationally known sports talk-show host Upton Bell of Boston's WEEI radio. The Grand Old Game ''will slowly die,'' he says, ''perhaps in 25 years.''

Among the arguments advanced by critics:

* If not for its fall classic, the World Series, baseball wouldn't command as much network TV revenue as it does - $1.1 billion for six years under the latest contract as opposed to $2 billion for five years for the National Football League.

* Greedy owners have fought among themselves for players far more than their counterparts in football have. The result: more bloated salaries than in football and more deferred salaries stretching into the 21st century. The New York Yankees alone reportedly owes almost $100 million in deferred salaries.

Replies Chuck Adams, a spokesman for the Baseball Commissioner's office: ''We certainly don't agree. Baseball has thrived for more than a century. And if fan popularity is any indicator, it will continue too - well into the next century.''

Baseball has had its doomsayers before, and time has proved them wrong, he says, noting that attendance at major-league games has almost doubled over the last 14 years.

''Obviously, the game is different'' from other sports, Mr. Adams says. But he maintains it is enjoying ''very, very high'' support at the youth level, the source of future major leaguers.

Team owners, Adams says, are aware of the concern posed by soaring salaries and are not likely to risk the future of the game by allowing them to continue unchecked.

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